Retired NFL linebacker Derrell Smith has had a very winding journey, from the gridiron to Corporate America and even to Brooklyn’s famed food market Smorgasburg. But through all his experiences, Smith’s love of sharing love through yummy eats have teleported the enterprising 32-year old from the “hood of West Philly” into kitchens and pantries all over the world with his new show on Tastemade, Mad Good Food, which debuts April 8 at 8 p.m. EST.
Smith built his brand on one of Philadelphia’s most staple comfort foods: meatballs. In fact, he recalls the love he felt from the cooking of his mom, his own grandmother, and one special Italian grandma, which inspired the name of his company, Amazeballs. But while he diplomatically argues the merits of why some people say they dip theirs in “sauce” but others say they dip them in “gravy,” the son of two pastors believes there’s really one particular thing that all great meatballs have.
“It’s the soul. With meatballs, you usually don’t have to measure your ingredients,” he notes. “It’s just based on how much meat you have, and then you add all the ingredients accordingly. And so I think the flavor of the meatball, no matter what culture it’s from, the soul is what differentiates it from other cultures… That’s the taste and the variance that makes them unique to the person who makes it but also unique to that culture depending on the flavors that you put into it.”
After a series of injuries led Smith to leave football in 2012, he returned to Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications to complete his Master’s degree and began a new career in Corporate America. Nevertheless, he couldn’t abandon his love of cooking and would tinker with cooking on the weekends. Five years ago, while he was still working in advertising, Smith decided to enter the Brooklyn Meatball Takedown, and he won.
That success led the Smith to plunge further into food, and he applied for his own stand at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg.
“Everything I’ve done in my life, I’ve done on faith,” he said. “Before I got involved with Smorgasburg, I never cooked for more than ten people in my life. But I did it because I said, ‘I like to do this, and I know I love doing this, and I know I can impact somebody doing this.”
However, one year later, Smith was laid off from his advertising job. So he quickly parlayed his advertising chops and his love for cooking into his own YouTube channel. Media company Tastemade fell in love with his product and, after years of delivering content for them as well as for Disney, Smith now also has his own show on Tastemade. But Amazeballs and its parent company 99Eats, also created and owned by Smith, had actually been years in the making, and their beginnings go deeper than simply timing or food.
“[In 2012,] I remember going in to work, and that was the same week that Trayvon Martin died, and three other [Black] people were killed that same week. And nobody else at work could understand how I felt,” Smith relayed. “Everybody else in the office was so happy, and I just couldn’t understand. As a Black man, nobody else in the office could relate… so that was the same exact night I started looking up the test to own a food company. And every night, I would come home after work to study for the test to get my food certificate. A 15-level test, and so I learned. After that moment, I was charged!”
Smith understands the opportunity Mad Good Food has given him, and he wants to pay that love forward and be a beacon. “Our culinary producer is Black, and our head executive producer and the director is a Black woman as well. So we have two Black women and me. The three of us created this whole concept… these women, they were like my mom and sister,” he gushed when talking about the series. “This show is dope because we represent the culture the right way by hiring the right people, telling the right stories, and – personally – I think people who watch it will be able to relate to me. Because I’ve never seen anybody on TV who looked like me. Even if it’s just to inspire someone from West Philly.”
In the inaugural episode, Smith walks viewers through making a lamb dish. However, instead of just repeating a rote set of instructions, he also teaches the lamb’s significance for the season and from a religious perspective. “We take this dish, and we start out with ‘Why am I cooking lamb?’ It’s because it’s springtime; you have Easter, and you have Passover. I can cater to whomever wants to come to my home. I want to have some food for you.” He then proceeds to cook the curry but educates the viewers on the history of curry as well.
“The beautiful thing about this show is that it’s functional, it makes sense. We start with a meal that you make for a group of people, and then we show you how to take those same ingredients and make a meal for yourself. So coming out of the pandemic, it’s useful because, hopefully, we’re about to cook for some people [again], for our families and friends very soon.”
Mad Good Food premiered Thursday, April 8, and future episodes can be watched on-demand via the Tastemade website and the service’s app, Facebook, Instagram, and more.